Largest Catholic school finally gets its chapel

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After 81 years, what is now the largest Catholic secondary college in the country has a chapel that is fit for purpose.

The Chapel of St Peter the Apostle at St Peter’s College in Auckland was blessed and dedicated on March 13.

Many people — staff, students, benefactors, supporters, old boys, Christian Brothers, clergy, principals of other colleges, and many others processed to the doors of the new chapel as a resounding haka was performed by the college’s kapa haka group.

College chaplain, Msgr Paul Farmer, began his welcome by quoting from Psalm 118: “This is the day that the Lord has made, let us be glad and rejoice”.

Msgr Farmer handed the keys of the chapel to headmaster James Bentley and board of trustees chair Mark McLauchlan, who unlocked the doors. The outside walls of the chapel were blessed.

During the service inside the building, the baptismal font, the table of the Word, the reconciliation chapel, a statue of Mary, the Mother of Jesus, the chapel of reservation and the cross were blessed. The altar was consecrated and relics of St Peter Chanel and Blessed Edmund Rice were placed in it. The walls of the chapel were also anointed.

The service was relayed by live-feed to some 1000 students gathered in the school’s gymnasium. Among the clergy present were three former students of the college, Msgr Farmer, Msgr David Tonks and Fr Leonard Danvers, who had been at the college at the same time in the 1960s.

Clergy are among those welcomed with a haka.

In a homily, Msgr Farmer said that for many years, it has been said that “it is a great scandal that the biggest Catholic college in New Zealand does not have a chapel that is fit for purpose. Today, we do”.

The chapel had been a long time in “incubation”, Msgr Farmer said, but the vision of former headmaster Kieran Fouhy had become the vision of many.

Msgr Farmer encouraged every one of the 1250 boys at the college to visit the chapel. “This place belongs to each and every one of you.”

He said this chapel is a place of difference, a place of stillness, a place of quiet, a place of prayer, a place to listen and a place to reflect, for current and future students.

Later in the service, Mr Fouhy, now the headmaster of St Paul’s College in Ponsonby, referred to five previous, much smaller chapels, that had been elsewhere on the site.

“I congratulate everyone who has made this place possible,” Mr Fouhy said.

He hoped that students would use this chapel as students had previous ones, in that they would keep up a tradition of dropping in to the chapel to pray before classes started each day.

The baptismal font is filled.

Mr Fouhy said he liked the symbolism of the chapel being in the middle of three large crosses visible from major Auckland roads. But he also noted the flag outside being at half-mast, in remembrance of the mosque massacres a year ago.

The cross was an apt symbol, he said.

“I suppose every boy will experience failure, somewhere in his life. Every person does. In fact, in educational things, I think maybe it is a good thing. It proves that character can be built. It proves that we have to strive. The good times we know now won’t always be the good times.”

Mr McLauchlan said the chapel “is a defining symbol of who we are as a Catholic college”.

“We are immensely proud of this chapel, and we believe it has been worth the wait.”

He said people might ask, why did it take so long?

“I think it does pay to remember, for a good part of its history, the college has faced many challenges and financial struggles. There are, I know, staff still working for the college today who remember the days when bills to be paid went into the bottom drawer, waiting for funds to come in.”

But the opening is a “transformation”, he said.

Headmaster James Bentley welcomed and thanked many people associated with the project. He also welcomed the headmaster and associate headmaster of Auckland Grammar School and the headmaster of Mt Albert Grammar School, as well as principals of Catholic colleges.

Mr Bentley described the chapel, which cost an estimated $3million, as “a magnificent building which makes a statement for all to see about what we believe in and what we stand for. This chapel will be a place of worship, not just for our students and staff, but for our wider community”.

Gary Lawson, of Stevens Lawson Architects, said it was an emotional day for him.

“To design a place of worship, as a Catholic, has involved a deep personal journey and a spiritual growth that I don’t think I quite expected. It is a rare privilege when one’s vocation can grow your faith and . . . truly merge with your life,” he said.

“Our aspiration for the Chapel of St Peter has been to create a building which inspires, encourages worship and helps establish in each boy a life-lasting relationship with Our Lord.

“We are all very proud of the project.”

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Michael Otto

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